By: Yogendra Yadav
I have had occasions to disagree with your politics and policies. But I write this letter not as a member of an opposition party but as an ex-teacher, a parent and a citizen.
I come from a teachers’ family. My great grandfather was a schoolteacher, and so was my grandfather. My father retired as a college teacher and my mother as a schoolteacher. I had little choice, especially since I was born on Teachers’ Day. So, I taught at a university and married someone who is a university teacher. I am no longer a teacher by profession, but remain one at heart.
My daughter tells me that her school timings have been changed for today: instead of 8am to 2pm, it will be 12pm to 5pm. It is not a big bother for her. Perhaps she likes this change. But what bothers her is that all this is done to ensure that the entire school can listen to you on a big screen. She does not know what you are going to speak about. Now, she has no objection to listening to the prime minister. What she doesn’t understand is why she could not do so on TV at home. It’s a free country, she says, why can’t I have a choice? If it had to be done at school, why couldn’t you adjust your schedule to suit school timings?
I know you don’t mean to do this. Perhaps the decision was taken by some over-enthusiastic, control-freak babu. But even before you speak, you have unwittingly given my daughter a lesson in the rituals of power that go with the infamous VVIP culture: everything can be changed to suit saheb’s convenience. I don’t need to tell you this. Children learn little from official moral sermons. They learn from how their parents, teachers and peers conduct themselves.
I do not know how her teachers look upon this change. They are too discrete to talk about it, but I suspect they resent it. Not just for petty reasons of convenience but for something deeper. Their school has a beautiful way of celebrating Teachers’ Day that puts them at the centre. Now it puts you at the centre. It’s Teachers’ Day today (not Children’s Day), let it remain their day.
Perhaps the best way to mark this day would be to reflect on the status of about 50 lakh teachers in our country. A small minority of these teachers has a regular job, grade, scale, provident fund and all. They are paid better than my parents were, but they do not enjoy the same respect. My wife flares up when someone says that teaching is a good job for “ladies”, for what they mean is that it is full salary for a part-time job. This reflects a common perception of teachers as overpaid employees, as small cogs in the sarkari wheel. Those teachers who do their work honestly are condemned to face this hostile perception.
The condition of a majority of teachers is much worse. Their salary and working conditions are pathetic. Most state governments have come up with schemes to recruit cheap, unqualified teachers. These temporary, ad hoc or contractual teachers have no job security and get paid a small fraction of what a regular teacher would earn. Those who work in private schools and colleges usually get paid much less than what they sign on paper. Even in our colleges, teachers do not have a desk of their own, let alone an office or academic facilities.
Teachers’ recruitment is a scandal. Haryana’s former Chief Minister Om Prakash Chautala got caught and convicted in a scam involving teachers’ recruitment. He was just unlucky to have been caught doing something that everyone does and gets away with. Teachers’ education is a national shame. While we have done something to redeem our LLB degrees, the BEd degree continues to be one of the weakest links in our higher education chain. Most of the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee on teachers’ education are still to be implemented.
As you speak to the students and (I hope) teachers this afternoon, please spare a thought for how we expect these underpaid, ill-treated and demotivated teachers to impart to children all the lofty values that we all love to talk about.
Perhaps my daughter would change her mind if you have some special announcement for her Madams and Sirs.
The writer is senior fellow, CSDS, currently on leave, and chief spokesperson of the Aam Aadmi Party